Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on February 15, 2013

in Complexity & Emergence, Hayek, Myths and Fallacies

… is from page 181 of Lionel Lord Robbins‘s 1976 book Political Economy: Past and Present (link added):

As Professor Hayek has emphasized in his classic Constitution of Liberty, general liberty, in the sense of the absence of constraints on individual activities which do not impinge on the liberties of others, is intellectually separable from political liberty in the sense of the right to vote; and it is clear that, historically, the movement for widening the franchise has by no means always been associated with movements for individual liberty in the former sense.

The modern mind, I believe, is so accustomed to equating freedom with democracy that any suggestion that the latter can be extended too far immediately sparks the suspicion that he or she who dares to question the extension of democracy wishes ordinary men and women to be at the mercy of powerful, arbitrary tyrants.  Likewise for any hint that democracy constrained by constitutional limitations, such as term limits or the indirect election of the members of one body of a bicameral legislature, works better than does democracy that is as direct and as unconstrained as possible.

In fact, of course, the alternative to governance by democratic majorities is not limited to subjection to the dictates of a nondemocratic tyrant such as a Chairman Mao.  Another alternative is individual governance: each of us living our lives as we each choose, governed – through the laws of property, contract, and tort – in our dealings with strangers by the economic ‘law’ in such a free society that requires each person who wishes to improve his or her lot in life to assist others, through markets, in their efforts to improve their lots in life.

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